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Sobriety checkpoints fading as DUI enforcement tool in Fargo

FARGO – Sobriety checkpoints appear to be one of the casualties of Police Department staffing shortages here.

Since the department started running checkpoints in the fall of 2004, it has conducted 60 of them, leading to 174 total drunken-driving arrests.

The number of checkpoints has steadily fallen since 2005, though. From the high point that year of 11, they’ve held steady or decreased each year. Fargo police operated four each year in 2012 and 2013.

Sgt. Jim Kringlie said no sobriety checkpoints have been conducted in Fargo so far this year.

Kringlie said the department likes to have at least 10 officers working at each checkpoint in order to run it safely. A sobriety checkpoint under consideration for June had to be scrapped for lack of staff, he said.

The department is down seven officers, Lt. Joel Vettel said last week.

When police set up a DUI checkpoint, officers check for signs of intoxication for drivers of all vehicles that come through a stretch of road. Those who show some signs are pulled over for further testing. 

Between 2007 and 2013, checkpoints produced an average of more than two arrests a night in just two years.

Checkpoint plans are publicized by police in the days beforehand, though specific locations and times aren’t announced in advance.

Publicity is one reason there aren’t many arrests made at checkpoints, Kringlie said.

The department is also required to post signs alerting drivers that a checkpoint is coming up, and there has to be a route they can take that gives drivers an out to avoid it, he said.

That means there’s ample opportunity for drivers to spread a warning to others via social media, other media and word of mouth, Kringlie said.

Kringlie thinks a better alternative to the sobriety checkpoints, in terms of arrest to man-hour ratio, is a program called Reduce Alcohol Impaired Cars, or RAID.

In the RAID program, the department pays one or two officers to work a five-hour stretch of overtime devoted exclusively to arresting drunken drivers, unless they’re called away to a major emergency, he said.

Kringlie said he thinks the benefit of past sobriety checkpoint publicity is that people are starting to get the message about driving drunk. Last weekend, for example, RAID cars didn’t make any drunken driving arrests, he said.

“Seriously, I think less people are driving drunk than when I started 28 years ago,” Kringlie said.

Still, Fargo police are planning an August sobriety checkpoint in conjunction with the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

Both agencies try to set their checkpoints at times when drivers face more of a hazard from potential drinkers hitting the road, such as when students come back to college, or during big concerts or sporting events.

“It’s not so much that we’re saying people will drive drunk – it’s more for the public awareness,” said Highway Patrol Sgt. Luke Hendrickson said.

DUI checkpoints since 2004

Since they first began running them in fall 2004, the Fargo Police Department has conducted 60 DUI checkpoints. Those checkpoints have produced 174 DUI arrests.

2004: 3 checkpoints, 29 DUI arrests

2005: 11 checkpoints, 41 DUI arrests

2006: 10 checkpoints, 24 DUI arrests

2007: 7 checkpoints, 6 DUI arrests

2008: 6 checkpoints, 10 DUI arrests

2009: 5 checkpoints, 25 DUI arrests

2010: 5 checkpoints, 15 DUI arrests

2011: 5 checkpoints, 10 DUI arrests

2012: 4 checkpoints, 6 DUI arrests

2013: 4 checkpoints, 8 DUI arrests

Source: Fargo Police Department and Forum archives